Cincinnati Enquirer. Jan. 27, 2021.

Editorial: Thumbs down: Seelbach damages right message with wrong delivery

Cincinnati Councilman Chris Seelbach’s profanity-laden tweet on Friday was unbecoming of an elected official, let alone someone who fashions himself as the Queen City’s next mayor.

Seelbach’s rant was directed at Democratic Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes who criticized newly elected President Joe Biden in a tweet for signing an executive order allowing transgender athletes to participate as their identified gender in high school and college sports. Seelbach, a fellow Democrat and staunch advocate of LGBTQ rights, took exception to Rhodes’ comments about the teenage daughters of suburban Republican women now having to “share (their) locker room with biological males.” Seelbach responded by calling him “a bigoted piece of trash,” adding “F(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk) off Dusty A(asterisk)(asterisk) Rhodes.”

Our issue isn’t with Seelbach standing up for gay and transgender kids, but with the way he did it. He let himself get down in the gutter with Rhodes, thereby undermining a valid argument and surrendering the moral high ground. This isn’t the first time Seelbach has made crude and inappropriate comments via social media, and his text messages were among the most sophomoric of the bunch in the “Gang of Five” text messaging scandal in 2018. It’s particularly disturbing that Seelbach admittedly thought about the post ahead of time and still chose to hit “send.” His inability to govern his passions, however well-intentioned, might one day be his political undoing.

Make no mistake, Rhodes isn’t a saint in all of this. We’ve criticized him in the past for his insensitive tweets mocking Black Lives Matter and the mural painted in front of City Hall. Rhodes, who is clearly at odds with many in his party, is entitled to his opinion, but as a public official, his comments have proven neither helpful nor productive. Only Rhodes knows what was truly in his heart and behind his words, but his comments are out of touch at the least and transphobic at worst.

The kind of rhetoric he and Seelbach are trafficking in only pours gasoline on the already raging fire of anger and resentment that exists in our country right now. The people of Cincinnati and Hamilton County need leaders who will solve problems not create more; who will unite us around common causes not drive us further apart for a few “LIKES” to satisfy their egos.

Seelbach said that we “cannot allow bullies to spread their hate.” Yet, he seems to have forgotten the wise words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that “hate cannot drive out hate.” There’s no room for contempt in productive conversation, and if we have any hope of finding better ways to unite our community and rid ourselves of an “us versus them” mentality, then we need to be able to self monitor a bit better and maybe learn the lesson that social media is not the way elected officials should channel their frustrations. Word choices and how we communicate matters – so do the examples our elected leaders set for kids, the community and each other.

Americans just voted in record-breaking numbers to get rid of a sometimes foul-mouthed, name-calling president who couldn’t control his Twitter impulses. Do Cincinnatians really want to elect a mayor with the same problem? Rhodes might not have to face the certain wrath of the voters he’s offended in the Democratic Party if he decides not to seek reelection. Seelbach, on the other hand, must avoid these keyboard cage matches, lest he shouldn’t be surprised if voters in the mayoral primary deliver him the same message he sent to Rhodes.


Cleveland Plain Dealer. Jan. 31, 2021.

Editorial: Why wasn’t rampant fraud in Ohio’s federal pandemic jobless claims revealed earlier?

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted recently revealed -- in answer to a reporter’s question -- that of 1.4 million Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims filed in Ohio, more than half had been flagged as potentially fraudulent. Brazen crooks even filed claims – unpaid – in the names of Gov. Mike DeWine, first lady Fran DeWine and Husted.

That’s unacceptable -- not just the fraud, but the silence.

How long were Husted et al. going to sit on this? Until up to 700,000 Ohioans woke up one day to discover that someone else fraudulently spent their PUA dollars -- and that they owed taxes on benefits they never received?

And could some of this relate to Ohio’s own mismanagement of its overwhelmed jobless claims system, mismanagement that’s harmed countless Ohioans who weren’t able to get benefits to which they were entitled, or couldn’t figure out how to dispute state demands for repayment of supposedly fraudulent benefits they felt were rightfully received?

Those problems -- which the state is now proposing to address by bringing in executive overseers from the private sector -- also have been blamed on the state jobless system’s creaking, 17-year-old computer system. Yes, it should have been upgraded long ago, and upgrades are now in the works.

But meantime, folks trying to report PUA fraud are liable to run into the same gauntlet of an overwhelmed Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) -- without adequate staff or an acceptably functioning computerized claims systems -- that regular state jobless applicants are still encountering.

The state has put a big red button on the ODJFS website to report PUA fraud. Maybe, that will help.

The PUA program is 100% federally funded and, according to the National Employment Law Project, “provides emergency unemployment assistance to workers who are left out of regular state (Unemployment Insurance) or who have exhausted their state UI benefits.”

As of mid-January,’s Jeremy Pelzer reported, Ohio had made more than $7.8 billion in PUA payments to more than 827,000 Ohioans. Till recently, PUA benefits required less documentation than traditional benefits, a fact that could have helped scammers defraud the system.

ODJFS’ director, Kimberly Henderson, a DeWine appointee, said the latest federal COVID-19 relief law (the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021, which then-President Donald Trump signed Dec. 27) requires better documentation from PUA applicants, making it tougher for scammers to steal.

Ohio’s quest to prevent scams, Pelzer reported, has been hobbled by those same 17-year-old computers. The system was swamped in 2020 when Ohioans thrown out of work by the COVID-19 pandemic flooded the agency with jobless claims.

In fairness, as noted, Job and Family Services is updating computers. But the long delay in doing so is yet another example of Ohio’s systemic neglect of a safety net vital for working Ohioans and their families.

Consider, for example, what an Ohio Chamber of Commerce official recently wrote: that the General Assembly, “despite … having over a decade to properly reform Ohio’s unemployment trust fund and put it on a path towards solvency,” has failed to do so. Yet some General Assembly members had the gall to whine last year that their Statehouse offices were being flooded with constituent calls about unemployment claims delayed or lost at ODJFS.

Irony, like shame, is lost on some people. Can ODJFS do better? Yes, as can every state agency – if it isn’t hobbled by a feckless legislature.

Meantime, Ohioans need to be told when fraudulent claims have become as common as snowflakes in winter. Shame on state officials for waiting to be asked.


Columbus Dispatch. Jan. 30, 2021.

Editorial: This year of all years, we need data from school tests

As Ohioans start to dream about spring and a time when pandemic restrictions could begin to loosen, one aspect of Spring 2021 is still up in the air because of the coronavirus: standardized testing in the state’s K-12 schools.

Here’s a solution: Schools should go forward with testing, but without the penalties that normally would befall schools, districts, teachers and students for poor performance.

Although some are arguing that the difficulties of interrupted and remote learning mean that students shouldn’t have to take standardized tests this year, those challenges make assessment more important than ever.

Last spring, after in-school learning was halted suddenly, with almost no notice, lawmakers waived the standardized testing requirements for the 2019-20 school year and that made sense, given the chaos of what would normally have been testing season.

For the current school year, the General Assembly already has passed a measure canceling most penalties that could come with poor testing performance by teachers, schools, or districts. That remains appropriate. Even though nearly a year has passed since COVID-19 began interrupting all aspects of community life, the constantly changing circumstances and massive stress on families mean that remote and/or hybrid learning continues to interfere with learning, especially for poor and minority students.

But going forward with the tests themselves is important; schools and education officials need to know how remote learning and upheaval have affected student achievement. They need to know how the effects differ for different groups of kids -- those of high vs. low incomes, for minorities, for older grades vs. younger and for rural vs. urban students.

That data is needed not only to help get this generation of pandemic-affected kids back on track, but also to better understand how to go about remote learning in the future.

We’ve already lost one year of testing. To leave this unique past year unmeasured would squander valuable insight, whether it is to improve remote learning in ordinary circumstances or, heaven forbid, if another emergency shutdown arises.

A side benefit of testing without consequences this year might be for the public and policymakers to see the value of assessment as purely diagnostic tool rather than the high-stakes game it became over the past three decades. Today’s young parents don’t remember a time when multiple standardized tests nearly every year weren’t a standard feature of school. It wasn’t always so, though. Before the 1980s, states left it up to local school districts to assess the performance of their students, which they did largely through course grades. Success or failure belonged to the individual student; no one thought much in terms of whether the schools or the teachers had been effective.

Then a 1983 report by a national commission on education, titled “A Nation at Risk,” raised alarms about steady decline in the performance and abilities of American students through the 1960s and 1970s. It declared the matter a national emergency. In many states, including Ohio, the response centered on the idea that schools were failing, with no consequences; “accountability” became a rallying cry.

A conservative Republican state senator named Gene Watts crusaded for the establishment of “proficiency testing” — not ranking students’ performance compared with each other, as traditional standardized tests did, but measuring how much required course content each student had learned.

Ohio’s first “high-stakes” test — the 9th-grade proficiency test, which students had to pass to graduate — made its debut in 1992, followed by a 12th-grade test for a higher-level diploma and more tests at more grade levels. The Associated Press reported in 2000 that lawmakers in 41 states proposed more than 900 bills on education accountability.

Testing became a federal, as well as state, mandate in 2001 with the No Child Left Behind Act. The overall movement promoted, rather simplistically, the idea that the key to raising student achievement was simply to set higher expectations. The NCLB contained the absurd provision that 100% of America’s students must be “proficient” at their grade levels by 2014.

Three decades have shown that that it isn’t so simple. Time and again, states, including Ohio, have passed laws with ambitious targets and severe consequences, only to end up staring down the possibility of flunking half of a city’s third-graders or denying diplomas to thousands of students who had met all of the traditional requirements, or some similarly destructive outcome.

The result has been a constant churn of ever-evolving test requirements and state report cards, leaving families confused and school officials frustrated and cynical.

The response now, as pandemic-related remote learning adds yet another wrinkle, shouldn’t be to give up on measuring. We should instead recognize that its best use is to diagnose how children are faring and which types of lessons and methods work best with which students.

Figuring out how public schools can overcome the effects of poverty and family dysfunction that plague so many American children must be a never-ending project. Measuring results via testing is an indispensable tool.


Sandusky Register. Jan. 26, 2021.

Editorial: Nation loses when dividers win

It was a surprise that U.S. Sen. Rob Portman announced he would not seek re-election next year, and it was sad to learn about his decision. Portman, unlike some other elected officials, was steady, reliable and delivered for Ohio without fanfare. He was never a darling of the fake news, far-right broadcasters or opinion pundits in primetime on Fox News, One America News or Alex Jones.

His credentials as a true conservative, however, far outweigh media stars like U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan and other loudmouths. Jordan will answer questions from Maria Bartiroma or Lou Dobbs at the drop of a hat, but he rejects questions from media companies back home and keeps his contact information a state secret to avoid having to answer to constituents.

Jordan can deliver the hyperbolic red meat with simplistic explanations served up with a common enemy to hate, but always without substance or benefit to the state or its residents. In his entire Congressional career and his years as a state lawmaker, Jordan sharpened his skill using words that divide people but failed to deliver any legislation to assist Ohioans in their day-to-day lives.

Portman is not that kind of politician. He is so much better.

The nearly $30 million being used to rebuild the break walls in Lake Erie that protect the shoreline of South Bass Island and the Perry’s Victory Monument is money Portman fought years to secure. Substantial money made available to help families dealing with addiction and recovery — something every one of us has been touched by — was delivered here by Sen. Portman. The rehab center, in treatment hospital and sober living community in Erie County that make up our full circle of care, were, in part, made possible by Portman, who served the entire nation in the same way.

While Jordan spent years politicizing the tragic deaths of four Americans caused by a terrorist mob in Benghazi in 2012, Rob Portman was working for Ohioans. Now, Jordan defends a mob leader, who incited the Jan. 6 terrorist attack on the U.S. government that killed a Capitol police officer and four others, in an about-face that defies logic and common decency. He is a crass exploiter for political gain, his own, only.

What makes us fear for our future is that people like Jordan — who accomplish nothing, legislatively their entire careers — are winning with too many Americans by polluting our conversation with false and fake information designed to divide and conquer, without consequence for the damage it is doing, the hatefulness he is creating.

Portman said one of the reasons he is opting out is “partisan gridlock” that makes it so difficult to achieve progress. The senator rejects that; Jordan lives for it. He defines it.


Youngstown Vindicator. Jan. 29, 2021.

Editorial: It’s time for Ohio to end COVID-19 curfew completely

We are glad to see Gov. Mike DeWine’s decision to relax the Ohio COVID-19 curfew by one hour, but we’ll be even more pleased when it goes away completely.

That’s because the curfew has produced little to no measurable results in combating the spread of COVID-19.

DeWine first announced Ohio’s curfew on Nov. 19 amid speculation that he was considering a second business shutdown similar to the one he ordered for the state in the spring. Since then, the curfew has been extended three times. It had been set to expire Saturday before DeWine’s most recent announcement to relax the curfew by an hour.

The curfew required so-called “nonessential” businesses to be closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily. Beginning Thursday, the curfew start time moved to 11 p.m. DeWine based his decision on the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state. He apparently sees a trend in that number that he believes is linked to late-night visits to restaurants or bars.

According to his newly enacted rule, DeWine promised to move the curfew to 11 p.m. if the state saw fewer than 3,500 COVID-19 hospitalizations for seven consecutive days.

Now he says if hospitalizations remain fewer than 3,000 for seven straight days, Ohioans will be rewarded with a curfew at the witching hour of midnight. After two more weeks, if the number of hospitalizations remains below 2,500 for seven consecutive days, the curfew would be lifted. The governor threatens, however, if hospitalizations rise again, the curfew could be reimposed.

Sadly, bars and other mostly small businesses deemed “nonessential” are suffering the most from these arbitrary benchmark assignments. In fact, these small businesses are most essential to their owners, many of whom are Mahoning Valley residents, to the many servers, cooks and other employees who count on business to pay the rent and to the good of our economy in general.

As health experts repeatedly have stated, masks, social distancing and hand washing are the most effective ways to combat COVID-19 and hold its spread at bay. Nowhere in those rules does it indicate this virus spreads more readily after 10 p.m.

If the same rules are followed both day and night, reasonable people would see that the need for a curfew is futile.

Here are some Ohio Department of Health statistics to consider.

On Nov. 19, the day the curfew was enacted, Ohio had reported 9,248 COVID-19 cases. The cumulative total that day was 382,365.

One month later, on Dec. 19, that cumulative total had nearly doubled to 646,301, despite the curfew.

Another month later, on Jan. 19, case totals continued to soar, reaching 852,309.

Regarding COVID-19 hospitalizations, cumulative totals numbered 23,373 on Nov. 19, the day the curfew was first enacted. One month later, on Dec. 19, that number had reached 32,909. After another month had passed, the number reached 40,087.

Based on these case and hospitalization trends, how, then, can the curfew be defended as necessary or effective?

Many health experts would argue it is much more likely that the family gatherings and holiday travel in November and December contributed to burgeoning COVID-19 case numbers.

Indeed, if businesses follow the rules by limiting the number of customers, keeping patrons seated, socially distanced and masked up — during the day or in the late evening — why are they still being punished?

We challenge the governor to show us how this curfew has helped slow the spread of this horrible virus, because Ohio businesses certainly can show us how badly it has hurt their livelihoods.

It’s time to do away with this ineffective curfew and instead focus on following the other rules that are more meaningful in the control of this virus but that don’t significantly affect the livelihoods of those who rely on all business — including the sales that come after dark.